When Randy Phillips got the idea to bring Michael Jackson back to his fans he never would have guessed it would end this way: Michael is dead, and Phillips has been “exited” — in corporate speak– from his job as founding chief of AEG Live. Yesterday the company announced simply that Phillips was gone, and there was a new corporate hierarchy to replace him. It wasn’t very gracious, but that’s corporate America.
Phillips started AEGLive in 2002 and put it on the map. He and Tim Leiweke — who left last March — literally created AEG to compete with what became Live Nation (formerly Clear Channel Entertainment). They made the O2 Arena outside of London their beach head. Among their triumphs was the actual Led Zeppelin reunion in memory of Ahmet Ertegun.
Under Leiweke and Phillips, the whole L.A. Live center in downtown Los Angeles blossomed. What was a wasteland is now a thriving culture center in a city where culture is usually mentioned in conjunction with strep throat. In New York AEG set up shop with the Nokia Theater in Times Square.
It was at the Ertegun concert that Randy told me he’d made an offer to Michael Jackson to do 10 shows at the Arena. The offer was rejected. But a year later Michael’s finances were in worse shape than ever. The offer was re-examined. The deal was made. Phillips never conceived of the depth or range of Michael’s problems. On the car ride to the O2 Arena, Jackson was literally a mess. And things went downhill from there.
There were plenty of successes, big tours, and even the triumph of the Jackson documentary “This Is It.” From Paul McCartney to Justin Bieber, AEG held its own with behemoth Live Nation. Phillips leaves a well-armed organization for popular Jay Marciano, the guy he brought in from Madison Square Garden hand picked. Maybe Phillips will get back into management, where he was a rock star. His first client could be Lady Gaga. If anyone could straighten out that mess, it’s Randy.